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Derek H: Portrait of an Aspie

Updated on February 24, 2010

A few weeks ago I watched a movie on HBO called Temple Grandin, in which Claire Danes played a woman with Asperger's Syndrome in the 1950s and 60s who made great breakthroughs in the cattle industry while dealing with something that rendered her as not being able to interact with people in a way that was considered normal or acceptable.

As I observed Temple freak out over things such as sliding glass doors in supermarkets and the sign on her bedroom door falling off, as well as talk to people in an inappropriately loud voice while not maintaining eye contact and obsessing over cows, I saw similarities between me and her - being that I also have Asperger's Syndrome, a high functioning form of autism that negatively affects one's ability to socially interact with others.

Like Temple, I have had obsessions with different things throughout my life, from maps, Charlie Brown and baseball as a youngster to college football and Las Vegas as a grown-up. I've also been told on many occasions that my voice is too loud while conversing with others.

I noticed some differences between Temple and myself; her Asperger's was more severe than mine in that unlike her, I did experience modest social success at times during my formative years, due to the fact that I was mainstreamed into regular school and did so well I was put into gifted classes. I was also a pretty good athlete, unlike most "aspies" who lack gross motor skills - a common trait in the disorder - and played the saxophone in the school band.

However, that's not what I intended to talk about.

While I'm not Leonardo DaVinci, I wanted to paint a self-portrait of myself as an adult with AS - short for Asperger's - to give people an idea of the shortcomings in the brain that limit my ability to interact socially with folks for any significant length of time.

The biggest aspect of my being an aspie is my inability to take criticism, constructive or otherwise, without feeling that the one criticizing me is being a bully who's out to get me and sees me as a inferior being, someone stupid who is bad at what he's doing and needs to be treated like a pre-schooler.

This is especially the case when I feel like I've worked hard and have given my best effort in whatever task I am doing; my mind tells me that despite giving my all, I'm still being unfairly attacked.

This aspect particularly manifested itself in the places where I have worked, which is the main reason why I haven't been employed in two years, preferring to pursue a career where I can work on my own without any interference - as a writer and a blogger.

I remember two instances where people who were not my supervisors were constantly on my case (or so it seemed) for what I felt was no good reason. They were persecuting me, offending me, and insulting my intelligence in my view, though they would deny that and even though in hindsight I knew they were trying to help.

The first instance of this was at a school where I taught P.E. and the guy I was under - though I mistakenly saw him as more of an equal partner - criticized me so much that I had a nervous breakdown and laid in bed with suicidal thoughts for three days. A few years later at another school, a co-worker was ordering me around for weeks, so much so that one day I finally went over the edge and yelled at him to stay out of my business.

I know that right about now some people think I'm a spoiled brat for feeling and reacting the way I did, which would definitely be the case if I was a neurotypical - someone without any mental or emotional disabilities.

Because my brain is wired differently due to my AS, however, I realized after getting either fired or forced to quit from six jobs in a four year span that no matter how hard I try, I'll never be successful in a top-down hierarchy situation with bosses and supervisors in a way that's considered acceptable; that type of workplace will never work for me.

As an expert on this disorder once told me, "Working harder doesn't work", because it is the wiring in the brain, rather than any belligerence or laziness, that's caused me to be they way I am.

In other words, I will always feel insulted and unfairly attacked whenever someone, particularly someone who I don't see as an authority figure, attempts to give me "suggestions" in a manner that makes me feel that he or she thinks they are better than me.

In my mind, they think that I suck as a person and at the task at hand, and are letting me know that in no uncertain terms. A prominent aspect of AS is the aspie thinking in black and white; either they are good or they are bad. That is a predominant aspie trait of mine, which has contributed to me feeling the way I've felt at people criticizing me and trying to tell me what to do.

Certain sound effects affect me as a guy with Asperger's more than an NT (neurotypical). I love the sound of rain, airplanes, jets, and helicopters while lying in bed - they give me a very cozy feeling and help me relax, sort of like being in a cocoon. On the other side of the coin, ambulance sirens, car alarms, bouncing balls, dogs barking, and babies and little kids crying drive me absolutely crazy; I hate those sounds so much.

Several months ago I even had to file a written complaint to the manager of my townhouse complex because of a dog barking in a neighbor's house and the owners doing nothing abut it after numerous calls.

That should illustrate once and for all the sensitivity that people with AS have with certain noises.

Don't put me in crowds for any length of time, either. Whenever I'm out in public and there are long lines, traffic jams, or too many people on the bus, I feel like becoming the Incredible Hulk and throwing people out of the way. Heck, there are times when I flat-out don't like people and feel like they are encroaching and bugging me.

In fact, I sometimes find myself more drawn to animals than humans, especially cats, because they seem less complicated to deal with.

I wanted to describe one other trait of being an aspie; the fact that outside of a musical group I'm involved with and a bunch of guys that I play softball with in the spring and summer, I'm not much for social interactions such as parties and get burned out very easily when I'm out in the world for too long.

In short, working eight hour days, going for happy hour at the local bar, and having to socially interact with different folks constantly drains me to the point that after a short time, I'm not able to function, which makes me an unpleasant person to deal with. That's why like many other folks with Asperger's I'm only comfortable with working three or four hours at a time - and even then I've experienced burnout.

That is also why I'm currently working on getting social security disability payments while I try to make a go of writing articles, blogging, and authoring non-fiction books as a profession.

After I watched Temple Grandin's movie, in which Claire Danes did a great job in her portrayal of that woman and will undoubtedly achieve an Emmy nomination, I noticed one significant difference between her and me...

Temple was able to get accepted in her niche to the point where she has enjoyed a long and successful career; she is currently a professor at Colorado State University, has published many books on cattle, and is on demand on the lecture circuit.

As for me, I am not quite at that point, at least not yet.

Hopefully I'll approach the achievements that Temple has accomplished; II know full well that all it takes is for someone to see my qualifications and potential enough to give me the support and acceptance I need to be successful.

As Temple's mother told her in the film, "You are different, not less."




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      Karen Randle El 

      8 years ago

      Derek I have known you all of your life and in my opinion, you are one of the most valuable people that I know, especially in this family. You are kind, thoughtful and interesting. I think that you have not had a chance to look at yourself and notice all of the wonderful things that you possess. You have qulaities about that the "average" person whould truly want. The "problems" that you describe are true of a lot of us. For example, a barking dog would send me into the next hemisphere and I would not only complain to the association, but I would call the police. I HATE A BARKING DOG. I live where I live becasue I do not want to hear kids playing outside. I could go on. I am not trying to minimize your plight/condition, but in my book you are a lot more "normal" than some people that I have dealt with over the years, especially in the work place. I love you very much and always have, you are truly Star qulaity in my book, and I am there for you if and when you ever need me. XOXOXOXO


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